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Idle No More protesters marching in Victoria, BC, December 21, 2012. © r.a. paterson/Creative Commons License
Jan 2013

Idle No More – Canada's First Nations movement

In November 2012, Canada's First Nations began a new incentive to raise their voices together. With unprecedented speed the Idle No More movement gained momentum over the following weeks and months.• In November, four women from the province of Saskatchewan held a 'teach-in' about the possible effects of Bill C-45, a proposal by Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which would seriously weaken many environmental regulations.

On 4 December, a group of chiefs from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Canada's principal indigenous organization, were prevented from entering the Parliament buildings to lobby MPs over the bill.

On December 11, Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, declared a hunger strike, to focus public attention on First Nations issues, support the Idle No More movement, and highlight concerns about Bill C-45.

Around December 21, native people across Canada blockaded roads, bridges and railway lines. In British Columbia, protesters expressed their concerns about a proposed oil pipeline. In Ontario, border crossings to the USA were blocked.

On January 11, 2013, a delegation of First Nations leaders, co-ordinated by the AFN, held a meeting with Prime Minister Harper and various other ministers. The meeting was inconclusive, but negotiations go on.

The native writer Lisa Charleyboy phrases the objectives of Idle No More as follows: 'to build indigenous sovereignty, to repair the relationship between indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit), the crown, and the government of Canada from a grassroots framework, and to protect the environment for all Canadians to enjoy for generations to come.'

source: Survival International

Guarani children working on the sugar cane fields. © Survival International
June 2012

Shell drops biofuels plan after Brazilian Indian protest

cane from land stolen from an indigenous tribe, thanks to a dynamic campaign by the Indians and Survival International. The company, Raizen, was established in 2010 as a joint venture of Shell and the Brazilian ethanol giant Cosan to produce biofuel from sugar cane. But some of its sugar cane is grown on land that belongs to the Guarani tribe, one of the most persecuted and impoverished in South America. Their leaders have been repeatedly killed by gunmen on behalf of the sugar cane growers and cattle ranchers who have taken over almost all their land. Now Raizen has agreed to stop buying sugar cane from land declared as indigenous by the Ministry of Justice.

sources: REDD+ monitor
Survival International

sacred grove at Heggala Aiyappa, Western Ghats, India. © Claudia Rutte
Oct 2011

Mapping sacred sites for their protection

'Nature conservationists over the last decade have begun to recognize and document the potential of sacred natural sites for preserving biological diversity. Sacred sites in this context are natural or semi-natural areas protected in the name of spiritual or religious beliefs that also offer special advantages of community-based, long-term resource management.

'While most studies about sacred natural sites have focused on traditional cultures and animistic beliefs, there is growing evidence that such sites located in Western, Judeo-Christian contexts also convey distinct conservation advantages.'

…says Claudia Rutte, a behavioural ecologist based in Switzerland, who in 2010, together with Shonil Bhagwat, an ecologist based at Oxford University, UK, started SANASI (Sacred Natural Sites), a database-project aiming to provide scientific data on sacred natural sites for research and policy making. The database is also publicly available via the website Mapping the Sacred.

SANASI soon gained the support of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and the IUCN's Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (see World tree news Sept. 2003 and Oct. 2010) because it is not just an academic exercise. It is a further strengthening element in the networking of indigenous custodians of sacred natural sites all over the world. 'Sites', by the way, does not only mean relatively small places but can just as well refer to a large forest or an extensive mountain side.

On 25 October 2011, SANASI held its first symposium in Zurich, bringing together scientists that have been engaged with various forms of research on sacred natural sites. The goal of this symposium was to assess the field's state of knowledge, as well as to identify the most promising future research directions.

string: Protecting sacred natural sites worldwide, Sacred Site to be recognised term

cloud forest at the Santa María Volcano, or Gagxanul, a sacred natural site in Guatemala. © Bas Verschuuren
Oct 2010

Protecting sacred natural sites worldwide

'Sacred natural sites provide for the protection of biodiversity but also for the continuation of cultural practices,' says Bas Verschuuren, Co-chair of the Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, a sub-division of the IUCN (= International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world's largest and oldest conservation organisation), and Coordinator for the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative.

'As most of the threats that sacred natural sites face today, such as tourism, industrialization and urbanization, affect both cultural and biological values, they weaken the special relationship between people and nature that is so typical to these areas and so precious not only to many cultures around the world but also to humanity as a whole."

Verschuuren is also lead editor of a new book, Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving nature and culture, which is being launched by IUCN at the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan. The launch is part of an event organised by ETC-COMPAS and IUCN and is dedicated to promoting sacred natural sites and their crucial role in conserving nature and culture.

Guidelines Cover

Furthermore, the IUCN Specialist Group together with UNESCO is publishing Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers, an action plan brochure in various language editions. So far, it can be downloaded in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Estonian, Japanese or Korean (translators wanted for other languages).

Kondh children swinging in the trees. © Survival International
Aug 2010

Indian Tribe in victory over mining giant

The Dongria Kondh tribe has won an historic battle to save their lands and forests from big-scale bauxite mining on Niyamgiri Mountain in eastern India. Their resistance became a test of whether a small marginalised tribe could stand up against a multinational with its army of lawyers, lobbyists and PR firms. The intruder, who has already built a huge aluminium refinery below the sacred mountain, is the British company Vedanta Resources, worth $8bn.

The Dongria Kondh have been supported by tribal rights campaign group Survival International (founded 1969 in London) who in turn had support from celebrities like Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Colin Firth and James Cameron – hence the press began to speak of the 'real Avatar tribe'. (Sadly, there are many of them!)

But the victory of the Dongria Kondh is in danger as India's Supreme Court is reviewing the case.

To keep up to date check the Survival International page.

A giant Thuja plicata on Meares Island, Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia, Sept. 2007  © Rob Dabal/Wiki Creative Commons
June 2009

Old-growth forest conservation on Vancouver Island

Clayoquot Sound continues to be at the forefront of old-growth forest conservation efforts on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, if not in North America as a whole. The way for environmental organisations is to support enacting First Nations' land-use planning initiatives into law.

This would also lead to special protection for sacred trees. For example, the Hupacasath First Nation (one of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribes) has a land-use plan that includes increased protection for the old-growth redcedars (Thuja plicata), yellow-cedars (Callitropsis nootkatensis) and the ecosystems they support.

Read more: Clayoquot Sound: Leading the way

tropical deforestation and landscape fragmentation in Colombia, mostly due to coca crops. © sharedresponsibility.gov.co
March 2009

Drug production kills trees and people

Since the United States and the UN 'took over' Afghanistan from the Taliban, the annual opium production has increased over 5400 per cent – 150 tonnes in 2001, 8200 tonnes in 2007. The 2007 harvest produced about 820 tonnes of heroin and at the Uzbekistan border, UN troops found themselves in the strange position of having to wave through the convoys of black jeeps. All this land growing poppies cannot be used for food production or reforestation! The chemical waste products of the heroin labs pollute additional land.

Worse for the trees is the situation in Latin American countries ruled by cocaine. Here, unlike in Afghanistan, US involvement has actually helped to destroy 1.15 million hectares of coca, but in Colombia for one, production has not actually fallen. In March 2009, 'Latin America declares war on drugs a failure' (The Guardian Weekly, 13 March 09, pp1-2).

In Latin America, armed groups seeking new land for coca are clearing rainforests killing and evicting the inhabitants. 'Some 270,000 Colombians were forced to flee their homes in the first half of 2008' (The Guardian Weekly), the situation in Venezuela is equally bad.

The Colombian government has created a website for 'Awareness about cocaine's ecocide in Colombia'. Note: This website disappeared in late 2012 – now that's worrying!

tree shrine in Nepal. © Lisann Drews
Sept 2003

Sacred Site to be recognised term

WWF International and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) are launching a programme to designate 'sacred site' an internationally recognised term, hoping to give additional protection to the world's environmentally important (but often threatened) sacred places such as mountains, forests, rivers and pilgrimage routes.

To declare a place or an area as sacred (= untouchable, taboo) is the oldest method of habitat protection on the planet, yet these biological and cultural treasures are under threat — as are their appointed guardians who, in fulfilling their tasks, have been following millennia-old traditions. Around the world there are still thousands of places regarded as sacred. Some are carefully guarded by indigenous people and are places for ceremony and prayer, others are national shrines known to millions.

The concept of a sacred place, a sacred natural site, is deeply understood by indigenous people all over the world. Only in Europe this old ecological wisdom got lost when Christian missionaries began in the fourth century to destroy sacred sites all over Europe and the Near East. This was a fatal blow to the ancient type of ecology inherent in human beings because it broke people's living relationship with the land they lived on and replaced it with an assumption that the deconsecrated Earth can be mistreated and exploited. The rest is history – and global warming.

It seems that for humanity, in order to behave not self-destructively but in an ecologically sound way, the sacred needs to have a place in the psyche.

Words have power. The term 'sacred land' makes us stop and think. We recognize that the Earth and the many gifts of the planet that sustain all our lives cannot be taken for granted. It reminds us that all cultures have, or used to have, traditions and ceremonies to give thanks to the land, to express gratitude, respect and joy. Everywhere, the term 'sacred' also meant that the grove or spring or mountain named such was dedicated to Spirit or God, and taboo for development or exploitation of any kind.

To launch this term into the international discussion, to reconstitute its social acceptance (in Christian countries) and make it legally recognised is an important step to advance the protection of many ecotopes and the indigenous groups that guard them.

Moreover, it is a long-overdue step for the rich countries ('the white man') to respect the different world view of traditional communities and tribal peoples.

source: ARC
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Read more: ARC's Sacred Land Project

U'wa leader praying. © Amazon Watch
May 2002

Oilfield in Colombia disappears after Indio prayers

In 1995, the US oil company Occidental Petroleum, Oxy, bought the concessions to mine for oil – in one of Latin America's supposedly biggest oilfields – at the border of the territory of the U'wa tribe in north-eastern Colombia.

Near the bore hole, the natives started to pray to their god Sira, asking to hide the oil from the white man, deep in the underworld. And indeed, no more oil could be found. The company has spent about 100 million dollars since, drilling to a depth of 3600 metres (!) but the oil is gone. And Oxy is leaving for good.

Is it possible for an entire oil field to disappear? No question for the U'wa tribespeople. 'The king of money is merely an illusion,' they say. Capitalism which destroys everything reckons us crazy. And that's what we'd like to remain, if it allows us to keep on living on our beloved Mother Earth.' In their cosmology, the oil is the 'blood of the Earth'. It rests in the depth where the earthquakes come from and holds all life in equilibrium.

Over just a few decades, the U'wa have been heavily decimated to about 5,000 people by diseases imported by the white man. The neighbouring tribes call them the 'thinking people' and their noble task is to 'sing the world into being every morning'. In 1996 their fight was supported by a young Californian eco-activist, Terry Freitas, who was murdered three years later. But by then the U'wa had already matured to global eco-heroes by making efficient use of the internet, road blockades, and court hearings. Two years ago they exposed US vice president Al Gore who had inherited Oxy shares from his father.

Now, the Colombian state company Ecopetrol has announced its intention to go looking for the oil themselves.

source: Der Spiegel [German news magazine], no. 21, 2002
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Berito Cobaria. © Amazon Watch
Nov 2001

Protecting the Rainforest: The U'Wa Defense Project

The U'wa people are an indigenous people living in the cloud forests of northeastern Colombia. They have been engaged since 1992 in an ongoing struggle to prevent oil drilling on their land. For the U'wa, oil is the blood of the Earth and that to extract it is equivalent to committing matricide.

Their representative to the outside world in this struggle, Berito KuwarU'wa, won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1998. In 2001 he was quoted on the website of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation:

'Each time that a species is extinguished, humankind approaches its own extinction; each time an Indigenous people becomes extinct, one more member of the great human family leaves forever on a journey with no return… Perhaps before greed takes root in us we will be able to see the wonder of the world and the greatness of the universe that extends beyond the diameter of a coin.'

The struggle of the U'wa continues…

source: amazonwatch.org
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